The markets are exploding with pumpkins and other squash -- which means, autumn is here! I always look forward to this time of year because I like bundling up, wearing my hair down and cozying up on the couch with all kinds of tea.
My favorite squash to work with is kabocha. Its sweet flesh has a great moist potato-like texture. It is less fibrous than the common pumpkin, which I reserve for carving Jack-O'-Lanterns. The most challenging part of preparing kabocha is cutting it. It's important that you have a sharp knife and a very stable cutting surface. Always spread your hand on top of the knife in a perpendicular position.
Simmering kabocha in dashi, soy sauce and sugar or mirin is a staple for fall. This time, I tried to spice things up with a protein boost. I added toasted, chopped sunflower seeds to the steamed kabocha. With a side of ginger tea, it's the perfect snack to keep you warm and give you enough energy to rake the leaves outside.
1-1/2 lb kabocha
2 cups dashi
2 tbsp soy sauce
1-1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup toasted nuts or seeds
1. Choose a kabocha at the market with a firm stem.
2. Cut the kabocha into quarters. Use the palm of your hand, positioned perpendicular to a sharp knife, to cut into quarters. Cut off parts of the skin with the stem. Scrap out the seeds and insides with a spoon.
3. Wrap each quarter in saran wrap and heat in a microwave for 3 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, toast seeds or nuts on the stove top on high. I used sunflower seeds but I could have gone for peanuts, walnuts or pine nuts. Take off heat once you start hearing a sizzling or popping sound and the nuts or seeds are a light golden brown.
5. Combine the dashi, soy sauce and sugar into a small cup or bowl. Make sure the sugar dissolves into the liquids.
6. Unwrap quarters and cut into bite-sized pieces.
7. Put the dashi mixture into a medium-sized pot and bring to a simmer.
8. Add the kabocha skin side down and simmer with dashi for about 20 minutes. Prick the surface with a toothpick or fork. It should feel like a cooked potato.
9. Roughly chop the seeds or nuts.
10. Combine the kabocha with the seeds or nuts into a mixing bowl and coat well. Transfer to a serving bowl.
This kabocha packs a protein punch and is a great compliment to rice or bread. I like that it's hearty without making you feel like you ate something greasy or heart-burn inducing. It's a great thing to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner that will be an unexpected alternative to candied yams.